How The Pandemic Slowed Progress For Black Women’s Pay Equity

Many Black women, especially mothers, have had to take on coronavirus-related financial stresses as the sole or primary breadwinners of their households.

Aug. 3, 2021, is Black Women’s Pay Day. It marks the day that Black women finally catch up to what non-Hispanic white men made in the year 2020.

Black women make 63 cents to every dollar white men make. Viewed another way, it takes an extra eight months and three days for Black women to make what white men made the prior calendar year. According to the National Women’s Law Center, this disparity has only closed three cents in the past 30 years.

It also takes Black women longer to find work than their white peers. Over the course of a 40-year career, Black women lose out on $946,120.

A new report for the American Association of University Women outlines how generations of systemic injustice have directly fueled the race and gender pay gap. From the end of enslavement to de facto and de jure segregation and beyond, Black women at large have never had the privilege of economic freedom.

When conversations about pay equity first began, race was left out of the discussion, ignoring the unique experiences of Black women and other women of color, Gloria Blackwell, senior vice president at the American Association of University Women, told HuffPost. She said AAUW’s latest report outlining those historical inequities aims to address that.

“Even after the end of Black Americans’ enslavement, there were policies put in place to ensure that Black women and Black men didn’t have the opportunity to move ahead and/or create or build wealth in any context,” Blackwell said.

Black women were working “very low-paying jobs that offered no protections ... as maids and housekeepers,” she continued. “They were working in the service industry, so the perpetuation of the low-wage hourly jobs continues to this day.”

“Black women were also shuffled into industries where there were fewer protections,” Blackwell added. “There was no way for them to have health insurance or paid sick leave, ways that they were able to build any kind of wealth, no way to have a flexible work schedule.”

In over a 40-year career, Black women lose on average nearly a million dollars when you compare it to white men.

Gloria Blackwell, American Association of University Women

In order for there to be systemic change, Blackwell said, there needs to be “drastic policy change that keeps in mind the intersection of race and gender.” And while Black women have made some gains, the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted them.

In May 2020, during the pandemic, the unemployment rate for Black women reached 16.6% and remained in the double digits for the next six months, according to NWLC’s latest report. In June 2021, their unemployment rate fell to 8.5%, but it was still 1.7 times more than their unemployment rate prior to the pandemic.

Though there isn’t sufficient data to say the pandemic definitively widened the pay gap between white men and Black women, Blackwell said, “it’s been pretty clear from the research that has come out that some of the gains we’ve seen over the past several decades at least may have been erased and the pay gap itself is going to take longer to close.”

Blackwell noted that most of the jobs lost during the pandemic were service jobs mentioned in the report that employ a large number of Black women, including in retail, hospitality and tourism. In addition, many Black women, especially mothers, have had to take on financial stresses related to coronavirus as the sole or primary breadwinners in their households.

“So we see the pandemic as increasing the negativity around Black women’s ability to move forward in their careers, to be able to create and build wealth, to be able to have some of the flexibility and some of the career level support that are really important in a career,” she said.

“Student loans figure into this as well,” Blackwell said. “We know Black women have more student loan debt overall. And many of these stop-gap measures, housing, student loans, many of these things are left to fall by the wayside and people have to start pretending that the pandemic never happened. They’re going to have an inordinate impact, a greater impact on Black women. Black women’s earning power has clearly been hurt by the pandemic, and that will certainly contribute to a widened pay gap.”

Black women’s earning power has clearly been hurt by the pandemic, and that will certainly contribute to a widened pay gap.


Blackwell said that though states have their own pay equity laws, it’s vital that they are enforced. She said that new policy, especially for the post-pandemic era, must focus on child care support, paid leave and protections against sexual, racial and other kinds of harassment in the workplace.

Employers must be transparent, too, and provide data on who’s being paid what to identify where pay inequity exists. She added that no company should be asking about job candidates’ pay history, because “it’s another trap” that hinders women from receiving fair pay.

“People talk about the pay gap in this tiny little area; they don’t understand the ramifications of what that means,” Blackwell said. “In over a 40-year career, Black women lose on average nearly a million dollars when you compare it to white men. I think there’s a lot Black women could do if they had a million dollars over that time. We could definitely chip away at the wealth gap that keeps Black women and their families constantly struggling, not just to get ahead, but to maintain and keep up.”


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